Australia Floods: Floodwaters Recede, Community Spirit Comes to the Fore (Video)

January 14, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

{ntdtv http://english.ntdtv.com/ntdtv_en/ns_life/2011-01-13/051201074750.html}WONDECLA, Australia—The province of Queensland is reeling from possibly the worst natural disaster in its history, and facing a reconstruction effort of post-war proportions, premier Anna Bligh said at a press conference on Thursday.

As she spoke, her voice sometimes cracking with emotion, the Brisbane River had begun descending from its 4.46-meter (14.5-foot) peak, that coincided with an early morning high tide. Though the height of the river was one meter less than the last major floods in 1974, Queensland's capital is now far more built-up and sprawling than it was 37 years ago.

Meanwhile search and rescue teams are still tirelessly scouring the countryside for missing persons, particularly in the Lockyer Valley region, where a flood wave of tsunami-like proportions tore through from the town of Toowoomba on Monday.

At last count, the death toll stood at 15, with 55 still missing as of Friday morning local time. Authorities have expressed grave concerns for 12 of those yet to be found, who were in the highest risk situations.

Now, Queenslanders are confronted with the mission of returning to a normal life, a task that could take months or even years. In Brisbane alone, more than 26,000 homes and 5,000 businesses in 67 suburbs were affected.

“As we weep for what we have lost, and as we grieve for family and friends, and we confront the challenge that is before us, I want us to remember who we are—we are Queenslanders, we’re the people that they breed tough, north of the border," Bligh said.

"I said earlier this week that this weather may break our hearts, and it is doing that, but it will not break our will."

The premier also praised the heroic efforts of locals to help their communities. Like the tugboat driver who in full flood, guided a breakaway walkway hurtling down the Brisbane River away from the Gateway Bridge and boats.

"That was some of the most extraordinary footage we have seen," Bligh said. "That guy is a local hero."

She also mentioned Toowoomba teenager Jordan Rice who sacrificed his life on Monday after he told rescuers to save his little brother first. Both Jordan and his mother stayed clinging to a tree, but Jordan lost his grip, and his mother was swept away too as she reached out to save him.

As the initial shock recedes with the floodwaters, families, friends and neighbors are pulling together to recover from this historic disaster. Victims and supporters are even turning to Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates, requests and offers of assistance.

Many homes will be without power until the rivers drops and it is safe to reconnect power lines. Clean drinking water is also an issue. Though surrounded by water, residents must buy bottled water until local supplies are declared safe.

Aerial photograph of the iconic Suncorp Stadium (C) filled with the murky flood waters of the Brisbane River as flood waters devastate much of Brisbane on January 13, 2011. Australia's third-largest city awoke to a 'war zone' with whole suburbs under water and infrastructure smashed as the worst flood in decades caused wide destruction.  (Torsten Blackwood/Getty Images)
Aerial photograph of the iconic Suncorp Stadium (C) filled with the murky flood waters of the Brisbane River as flood waters devastate much of Brisbane on January 13, 2011. Australia's third-largest city awoke to a 'war zone' with whole suburbs under water and infrastructure smashed as the worst flood in decades caused wide destruction. (Torsten Blackwood/Getty Images)
The Bruce Highway, the main coastal artery servicing the state, is still cut off at Rockhampton, with fresh deliveries of essentials like food and fuel unable to reach most parts of the state, including the far north.

Queensland Police plan to open the highway to heavy transport vehicles on Friday afternoon. A decision will be made on all other vehicles at a later time.

Priority is being given to those areas most ravaged by the floods with airplane food drops in place for areas still isolated by floodwaters. Across the state, shoppers are already noticing a hike in prices and limited availability of many items.

The flood disaster could cost Queensland $13 billion in lost productivity and infrastructure damage, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Many of the victims are uninsured and support will be provided from the Premier’s Flood Relief Appeal for those in “dire circumstance,” Bligh said.

Donations continue to pour in. By Thursday afternoon the Appeal had reached more than $45 million.